Build Date: Mon Jun 17 10:20:09 2024 UTC

We prefer to be the annoyance rather than the annoyed.
-- Mr. Bad

Deep Inside Linus Torvalds

by El Snatcher

1999-07-24 10:26:09

Ratsnatcher gets HOT HOT HOT in this classic road tale that looks at the steamy underworld of Bay Area Linux advocacy. Loosen your collar for this one!

Here is my report, which I share with my Pigdog friends first (as always)...

So, first, a word about how I got there.

I highly recommend George as a driver. He is one of the finest drivers that I've ever met. His Honda, circa 197x, has a "hostage" passenger door like a police car. It can only be opened from the outside. You might imagine that this would make one claustrophobic, but I found that it provided exactly the opposite car ambiance; I felt quite secure in fact. That was especially important, because George is also a STUNT DRIVER who can maintain a speed of 80 miles per hour -- OR ABOVE -- even when exiting the freeway to side streets that have speed limits posted as 25 and 15 miles per hour. I was impressed by the braking speed of his Honda. Hondas from the 70's corner very well, too, especially when the tires are as over-inflated as his Honda's tires are. He keeps them that way just for handling. I know the engine in his Honda is tuned to an extreme tolerance, because we kept accelerating even after the needle on his speedometer was as far clockwise as it would go (no kidding!)!!

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I met George outside the communist headquarters building in San Francisco. It was a bit early in the day for me (about 3:30 PM), and I hadn't eaten yet, so I was relieved to find that George was hungry also.

"It's cheap hamburger day at McDonald's," he said, "My tastes run towards CHEESE burgers, but these regular burgers are CHEAP!!!" Or something like that. I think it must have been $.29 burger day. So we ran over to McDonald's. Time was of the essence because George had parked in a special 4:00 PM tow-away zone. And the burgermeisters were too slow there! We waited in line for approximately 45 seconds until it became painfully clear that the Mission St. McDonald's was too fucking slow for emergency fast food...

So we drove to the San Bruno McDonald's, where George consumed three plain hamburgers, and I had a chicken bun -- reminiscent of my high school cafeteria years. I should mention that first we also stopped at the Public Library there in San Bruno, where George checked out a book on recreational mathematics. He also caught and scolded some Cambodian nationals stealing Library materials, but that's another story...

After that we journeyed onward to Cisco Systems -- AT HIGH SPEEDS...

On the way we chatted congenially about Forth. George was/is a big Forth hacker who attends the important N. Calif. Forth users group meetings when he gets the chance. I was impressed with his comprehensive knowledge of Forth history and the various offshoots and Forth related projects, such as MISC (Minimal Instruction Set Computer) architecture, and the latest developments in Forth. Apparently George got involved with Forth way back with the Timex Sinclair. (Hell, I had one of those too, but I had a hard enough time with the built-in BASIC!) He eventually acquired a big Commie-64 system with a 5meg HD (!!) running Forth, and he currently hacks an MS-DOS-hosted Forth system. That's just some background on George that I thought you might be interested in (George: slap me around if I'm giving away too many secrets).

Okay, so that "MS-DOS-hosted Forth system" thing probably made your skin crawl. It should be noted that George is trying to put together a Linux workstation to hack Forth on. He'll probably use Gforth. I think.

Even with all of our stop-overs, we ended up at Cisco Systems a good two hours before the SVLUG meeting. In fact, we were the first two people there. We came in the wrong door, and encountered the beautiful and charming Cisco information-desk hostess, of building J, who seemed to know NOTHING about the SVLUG meeting but nonetheless signed us in and gave us Cisco visitor badges.

We were there a good two hours before the start of the meeting, so I suggested that we kill time at the nearby Computer Literacy Bookstore. The Computer Literacy Bookstore is a gigantic bookstore that has nothing but computer related books. It's approximately the size of Cody's Books in Berkeley, except it is ALL computer books. It's like the Stacey's computer book section with grow pills. That is, it is computer book NIRVANA.

George looked for Forth books. There were none. NONE. Can you believe it? (haha) And he complained within. We were informed that even the coolest and most important Forth books are out of print. They don't exist anymore, except in used book stores...

At this point, you're probably getting pissed that I keep talking about Forth when this is supposed to be a report on the SVLUG meeting. Well, damn, Linux is probably one of the best platforms to fool around with Forth on, just as it's a good place to fool around with just about every other language. Not that I'm into Forth, because I'm pretty much a C/C++/Java freak, I just find it interesting that some people still do Forth and like Forth... haha... So enough about Forth.

Back at Cisco, we ended up in seats that were about four rows from the front. Pretty good seats, actually.

Shortly thereafter, the whole place became PACKED.

Some total FREAK wearing polyester sat down next to me and booted Linux on an IBM Thinkpad. Of course, IT WAS fucking cool; but it was clear that he was just showing off; because immediately he started screwing around with some TCL scripts or something; he wasn't taking notes with it or anything like that. I'm sorry, but you don't nonchalantly hack scripts in a high charged atmosphere like this one. I admit that it was cool to see though. Laptops running Linux are cool. People with Linux laptops are cool. Maybe not cooler than you, but they are cool. Just because they have Linux on a laptop. Really.

Apparently, this meeting represented the biggest attendance that the SVLUG has ever had. And I believe it. There were a shitload of people there. The big conference room at Cisco Systems is not the usual. For a long time, SVLUG met at Carl's Junior.

After some housekeeping stuff, they introduced Linus. (woo woo!)

Linus looks a lot LESS geeky then a lot of the people who use Linux. In fact, Linus is a very normal looking person. He doesn't have the extreme geek look. He's an EXCELLENT, and effective speaker. And I'm not just saying that. I would tell you if he sucked.

Also, he looks very Teutonic. He looks like a German, especially with the little round glasses he wears. The only computer geek person that I can even compare him to, as far as raw stature goes, would be Arthur Van Hoff, who is one of the Java dudes. Arthur Van Hoff is a HUGE man like Tjames. In fact Hoff is the computer hacker version of Tjames, if Tjames grew up in a Scandinavian country...

But Linus... Linus has less of an accent that I do. Really! I have a worse Dayton, Ohio accent than Linux has a Helsinki one.

I was a little bit disappoint that Linus didn't talk about his general philosophies and the history of Linux and where he sees the whole thing going. Those are the things I really want to know. Instead he gave sort of a technical seminar on SMP. And that's actually okay. That's what he does -- work on the kernel. And SMP stuff in the Kernel.

He gave the kind of tech talk on the Linux kernel that you might pay for in a big conference setting. It was a technical seminar about the trials and tribulations of getting Linux to be a kick-ass SMP system. It was very good... in that sense. And then he fielded questions.

So in summary, that's what Linus is doing these days: working on SMP.

He is spending a lot of energy on making SMP work right.

There are also some HUGE, and special cacheing improvements in the file system that he talked about, which are also important as per web. I'm not talking about cacheing the actual data, but cacheing the information about how to get to it.

But I can only be vague about these things, because he didn't elaborate. Reading between the lines, I feel that the main thrust of things is to improve the web server abilities of Linux in general. It already kicks ass over NT, but with the new directory-path/inode cacheing stuff Linus was talking about, Linux is going to look real good -- much better than NT in raw numbers...

And that's about it. It really was a technical-type seminar.

But here are the interesting little things that I gleaned:

  • Linus's development machine has 512megs of RAM and two processors.
  • And he is the only user (of course).
  • Best quote: "MIS people have sick little minds."

The reason that I think Linus came to this meeting is that they gave him a fucking computer! Yes, it's true. He won the "Open Source Software" award, created by O'Reilly, RedHat, and some other companies. He was bribed, the way I look at it...

They didn't just give him ribbon; they gave him a 333Mhz Pentium II machine with a case that has a Penguin engraved on the front! Then, to top it all off, 3Com gave him a Palm Pilot because Linux has recently been ported to it.

And Rick Moen of BALUG gave him a six pack of Red Tail Ale.

Not a bad day's work.


Wow, I just realized that I've really run out of steam here at the end. On the other hand, I don't have a lot more stuff to pack into this report. I would love to tell you about Linus, but he really wants us to all think that he's a boring engineer guy.

Oh well... It was still worth going to. Not as fun as Larry Wall, though.

George dropped me off at the most convenient BART station.

The end.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

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